Radiofrequency Ablation Can Cause Esophageal Injury in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation

New Study Published in HeartRhythm First To Link Anatomical and Procedural Data with Esophageal Lesions After Radiofrequency Ablation

September 01, 2010

Media Contact

Ken Demith
Heart Rhythm Society

WASHINGTON, September 1, 2010 — New research released today is the first to find both anatomical and procedural considerations that can lead to the creation of esophageal ulcerations (ESUL) after radiofrequency ablation of atrial fibrillation (AF). According to a study published in the September issue of the HeartRhythm Journal, the official journal of the Heart Rhythm Society, patients at high-risk for esophageal injury can be identified based on pre-acquired multislice computed tomography. The study is the largest to provide serial endoscopy data on the esophagus after radiofrequency ablation.

The study population consisted of 275 patients admitted to the Elisabethinen University Teaching Hospital Linz for pulmonary vein (PV) isolation from September 2007 to June 2009. A standardized ablation approach using a 25-W energy maximum at the posterior left atrial (LA) wall without esophagus visualization, temperature monitoring or intracardiac ultrasound was performed. All patients were screened for evidence of the development of ESUL 24 hours after RFA. ESUL did not develop in any patient who had PV isolation alone. 

Study analysis revealed that the greatest anatomical risk factor for the development of ESUL was a smallLA-to-esophagealdistance. Within the study population, the total risk of ulcers developing was 2.2 percent. Wall legions were classified as ESUL created by radiofrequency ablation by means of localization and endosonographic appearance. Anatomical factors included in the multivariate model wereLA-to-esophagealdistance, type of AF and additional LA linear lesions.LA-to-esophagealdistance was the only independent predictor of the development of ESUL. 

“It has been speculated that esophageal ulcerations can lead to atrioesophageal fistula, which is a rare but life-threatening complication of AF,” said lead author Martin Martinek, MD, Public Hospital Elisabethinen, Academic Teaching Hospital of theUniversityofInnsbruckandGrazinAustria. “Our study aimed to discover risk factors that can lead to injuries of the esophagus due to radiofrequency ablation. In doing so, we may better identify high-risk patients to determine the most appropriate course of action for RFA and its follow-up.”

The September edition of HeartRhythm has a special focus on Atrial Fibrillation. This study is one of the many included that covers procedures, treatments and outcomes specific to AF.   

About the Heart Rhythm Society

The Heart Rhythm Society is the international leader in science, education, and advocacy for cardiac arrhythmia professionals and patients, and the primary information resource on heart rhythm disorders. Its mission is to improve the care of patients by promoting research, education, and optimal health care policies and standards. Incorporated in 1979 and based in Washington, DC, it has a membership of more than 6,000 heart rhythm professionals in more than 72 countries around the world. For more information, visit